The Digital vs Traditional Media Fallacy

tyler tullis
Michael Dean
Account Director

Aug 20, 2019

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Too often digital media is being framed as diametrically opposed to traditional media, when in fact, they both play a unique role. And yes, we’re saying that in 2019.

Before we dive into that, let’s look at a few other realities across paid media. We are no longer looking ahead to a digital-first media landscape. We are now firmly living in it. 2019 marks the first year digital advertising has overtaken traditional advertising spending globally. And for many marketers, this development can be seen as the final shovel full of dirt on the coffin of traditional advertising as well as the formal recognition of digital media as its superior successor.

If I may, a word of caution to folks in this mindset: Anyone proclaiming a platform is dead is trying to sell you something.

Even in Q3 of 2018, live TV made up the majority of time adults spent on video per day. Which is, an alarmingly high 5 HOURS AND 24 MINUTES!

“Wait a minute,” you say, “That doesn’t seem right. On a slow day, I’m lucky to spend a single hour watching video.”

The fact that you are reading a blog on an advertising agency’s website most likely means you are not the average American. Unless your target is specifically an upper-middle class, educated marketing professional, you are remarkably distinct from your customer.

When considering your media mix, it is admittedly difficult to detach from personal bias and look at objective, neutral data that uses representative samples. It’s especially difficult if that data tells you some old-fashioned, difficult to measure tactic is the most effective way to reach your customer. How are you supposed to report on your campaign’s success to your boss if you don’t have click through rates?

By the way — newer doesn’t always mean better. Many of the digital metrics marketers use in reporting are only so useful. For example, in 2016, Facebook admitted that it overstated average video view times by 60% to 80% for two years. Click farms (automated robots that artificially boost the status of ads and websites) are very real. 61% of Amazon reviews of electronics products are fake. You can get $36 to write a positive review of headphones. Marketing columnist Samuel Scott considers that everything on the internet is fake. It’s hard not to agree that a lot of it is.

Our Advice: Know the unique roles of medias, and deploy them strategically.

Reading this may give you the impression I’m against digital media all-together. I’m not. Digital advertising has a lot of positives: scalability, niche targeting, advanced metrics, low production cost, etc… But it is important to understand and define what you’re trying to achieve when you choose to deploy digital. Just as important, is setting the appropriate measures of success. Don’t rely on impression numbers and click through rates. Call the IT guy, get set up in your website’s Google Analytics, and see if users actually did what you wanted them to once they clicked on your ad. (We can help you do that too).

Most digital is really just a technologically advanced version of direct-response tactics. Twenty years ago, would direct mail have been the most effective tactic for your campaign? If yes, then digital should yield great success for you.

It’s truly great at activation. When you want to target to do something.

It’s not so great at brand building. When you want your target to feel something.

If your campaign needs to have a long-term effect on the awareness or perception of your business or organization, let’s have a serious discussion on if that’s achievable through a digital-only media plan.

We’re not a traditional or digital agency. We don’t proclaim anything is dead. We believe they can both be effective depending on your objectives. We recognize the pressure to demonstrate success through metrics – that is the language of today’s C-suite. Digital gives the appearance of delivering on that ask perfectly. Numbers give order and meaning to obscure and complex indicators.

In all honesty though, the true benefits of your campaigns don’t appear in a metric dashboard, they appear inside the minds of your customer.

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